A handloom's man

A handloom's man

A handloom's man

The name ‘Raw Mango’ instinctively induces a unique earthy taste. A majority of Indians are familiar with the taste. And that is the highlight of my clothes,” says Delhi-based designer Sanjay Garg, who in less than a decade of being into the world of textiles has been able to make his brand ‘Raw Mango’ highly coveted by all.

He is a handloom’s man, and he is famous for saris, especially Chanderi silks and blends of this silk with cotton. For nearly 10 years, he has been working with more than 450 karigars (weavers) on making the ethereal Chanderi silks more beautiful and appealing. He has introduced new colours, new motifs and a new style of wearing the traditional six yards sari. Over the last couple of years, he has improvised in the Benarasi and mashru textiles and cut, styled ready-to-wear garments also. But his signature clothes are handlooms, and very colourful.  

“The uneven texture of handlooms lend their own natural beauty to clothes. It’s the unevenness of the weaves that makes the handwoven clothes that much more exclusive and attractive,’’ says the designer, talking about his obsession for the handlooms. 

Universal appeal
From politicians to film stars, from fashionistas to performers, every other elite woman loves to flaunt his creations. Besides his clothes having a very distinctive appeal, it’s also probably his contempt to be labelled in typical words that make his label more appealing. Garg categorically says, “Please don’t label my clothes as Indian, traditional or ethnic. My saris are designed in such a way that they have a blend of modernity, a universal appeal, and are appreciated so.’’

It’s this universal attractiveness that got him an opportunity to talk with Rosemary Crill, former senior curator, Victoria and Albert Museum, about his love for textiles and his entire design process recently, and later held an exhibition of his collections at Asia House, London, to new clients and also to a new market.

Garg explained that though sari is traditional Indian wear, it can be contemporised and made universally appealing by changing the way it is draped. His advise: “For a wedding, dress up the same sari with a brocade blouse instead of a neat cotton blouse used for office wear. A youngster not used to wearing a sari can team it up with a crop top, a shirt, a tee or even a jacket for winter wear. And instead of wearing them over a long traditional skirt, saris can be draped over pants, palazzos or even jeans!’’

The designer, who hails from a small village Mubarikpur in Rajasthan, after his post-graduation in Commerce, joined the Indian Institute of Craft and Design in Jaipur to pursue his interest in designs and clothes. From there, he joined the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT). It was his desire to go abroad to study further that prompted him to take up small projects to fund his foreign studies and travel. It was one such project with NIFT that introduced him to cluster studies with craftspeople that got him in touch with Chanderi weavers. And then, there was no looking back. Chanderi weaves and handlooms interested him so much that he just couldn’t move away from it.

“Handlooms are worn by the majority of our women residing in villages and smaller towns. Even my mother and grandmother in Rajasthan still wear locally woven saris. Handloom isn’t exotic. It’s the main fabric of India. What some of us designers are doing is to bring in some innovation by working with the weavers, helping them learn new methods, which in turn help to contemporise their age-old textiles to appeal to the young. This changing process takes years, and we continue to work with them,’’ explains Garg.

It was one such quest that brought him in touch with mashru weavers. Where Chanderi is light, delicate and very good for the hot season, mashru is thick, has a satin finish and once formed an important part of a trousseau. But over the years, it lost its appeal due to its heaviness.

Preserving a heritage
Garg and a few others are trying to change this. In fact, Garg’s show at last year’s Lakme Fashion Week titled ‘Monkey Business’ had collections from fabric like mashru, gajji silk, kadhwa etc. Even at the London exhibition, he showcased ‘Monkey Business’, which had silhouettes from his favourite fabric plus digitally printed silk and wool. The usual Chanderi saris have earthy colours, but Garg has introduced colours like mustard, turmeric yellow, metallic gold, silver, moss green, etc. The silhouettes include shirts, wide-legged printed trousers, tube and spaghetti jumpsuits, high-waist box-pleated palazzos, and of course, skirts in different silks.

Quiz him as to why handlooms, as he claims, are the staple fabric of majority Indians living in villages, are priced so high, and he curtly replies, “National Textile handlooms are not costly. Anyone can buy them. But designer handlooms are pricey. Why not? A lot of creativity, ideas, hard work goes into making them designer wear. The exclusivity of a product does cost high! But I have a few saris which begin from Rs 3,000 a piece.” 

The designer also advises people to wear what suits them and their purse. “Everyone should develop their own style. No need to follow celebs. One can get an idea from them, but wear what flatters you.’’